Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this December 2015

christmasfamilyIt’s the most wonderful time of year!  With so many joyful and festive events happening this month, it’s definitely going to be hard to choose which ones to attend. Enjoy this special time of year with all of your family and friends – check out the many free or inexpensive activities happening this December in a town near you.

Tree Lighting Ceremonies:

Every Saturday & Sunday until December 20: The Asbury Park Bazaar & Market at Fifth Avenue have partnered to bring you one of the most spectacular holiday markets in New Jersey! The market features a curated roster of vendors, artists and local shops selling gifts and handmade goods including jewelry, accessories, art, photography, home goods, furniture, vintage, food, & much more! Enjoy live music, holiday performances, and special events every weekend by the giant Christmas tree with fake snow falling all around you. Children can get photos with Santa and there also attend kids craft workshops every Sunday. Warm up at the hot cider and hot chocolate tent or enjoy many other delicious holiday treats and festive cocktails at The Anchor’s Bend. For more information, call 732-829-2663.

Saturday, December 5 – Sunday, December 6: It’s the 31st Annual Holiday Weekend in Ocean Twp from 11am-4pm! Enjoy exhibits, trains, crafts, and handmade goodies all weekend long. This year, the Woolley House gets transformed into a holiday showcase to continue this holiday tradition. Check out the many homemade treats and one-of-a-kind gifts for everyone on your “nice” list. Children can even search the house for hidden nutcrackers in a Holiday Hunt. For more information, call 732-531-2136.

December 5-6, 12-13: Bring the whole family to enjoy this holiday treat. The Monmouth Players will be putting on a special production of Santaland Dairies for a limited time at the Navesink Arts Center (Atlantic Highlands). The show highlights the humorous accounts of working as a Christmas elf in “SantaLand” at a department store during the holiday season. Tickets are just $15 a person. For times and more information, call 732-291-9211.

December 5, 12, 18 & 19: The weather is cold, but the scent of Christmas is in the air! Come celebrate the holidays at Allaire Village (Farmingdale) for Christmas Lantern Tours and take a stroll through a lantern lit village, and learn about Christmas in 1836. Music, history, and a little bit of theater should be your new (or continuing) holiday tradition. Tickets are just $12.50 per person (not recommended for children under 5 as it is a walking tour and strollers are not permitted in the buildings). Spaces are limited so advanced ticket purchasing is highly recommended! For times and more information, 732-919-3500.

Sunday, December 13 & Sunday, December 20: Bring the whole family and have Breakfast with Santa at the American Hotel (Freehold)! From 10:30am-2pm, have a holly jolly meal with St. Nicholas himself. Hurry and reserve your seats today! For more information and reservations, call 732-431-3220.

Saturday, December 12-Sunday, December 13: American Repertory Ballet comes to Algonquin Theatre (Manasquan) to bring the magic, beauty and fantasy of The Nutcracker with Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, stunning sets, thrilling choreography, and a massive cast. The classic story of a young girl and how a mysterious gift brings about enchanted dreams and fantastical scenes. Whether it’s your first time, an annual tradition, or an once-in-a-lifetime experience, ARB’s Nutcracker is a perfect holiday treat for the entire family. At 52 years, ARB’s production is the longest-running Nutcracker production in New Jersey, and one of the longest-running in the United States. For times and more information, 732-528-9211.

6 Bad Money Habits Not to Pass on to Your Kids

Whether your bills are paid in full at the end of every month or you have to do some strategic budgeting, there’s a good chance you have some less-than-perfect money habits. As a parent, they don’t begin and end with you; they affect your children too, and for a lot longer than you may realize.

Most young adults are entering the world without the basics of financial literacy. Many are taking on massive debt in the form of student loans and doing so without understanding the principles of interest, or saving for emergencies and the future. Though schools have worked to increase financial education among the young, the evidence suggests these classes alone are largely ineffective and must be supported by good financial practices at home too.

Thus, a hard look at your own financial habits, paired with transparency and good communication, could give your kids the financial lessons they’ll need long into adulthood. So what are common habits to avoid and how can you ensure your children don’t adopt them as their own?

1. Overestimating your financial acumen.

First, admit your mistakes and be willing to learn. If you don’t know the best practices for using credit or how to make a budget, learn with your child.

2. Overspending.

Whether you misuse credit cards or prioritize wants over needs, spending more than you have is a sure recipe for insurmountable debt and poor lessons for the kids. Set a budget and make them part of it. Be willing to admit when you make mistakes with your money, and talk with them about what you could do better.

3. Not saving.

Not everyone can afford to save and you may not have an emergency fund. But even if you set up a savings account to pull $50 from your pay every month, you can teach children an important lesson. They need to learn to set aside money for a rainy day and retirement too.

4. Ignoring bills.

Got debt? Join the club. But even if you can’t afford to pay outstanding bills, ignoring them isn’t the answer. Involve your children in a discussion about how you got to this point and about handling responsibilities. Then call the creditors and try to make payment arrangements or get more time to pay. Children should know that sometimes we just have to face the music when it comes to cleaning up financial mistakes, even when that initial call can be gut-wrenching.

5. Fighting about money.

Family fights about money are some of the most harmful. When these arguments go on in front of the children, the damage is multiplied. Both parents should learn to talk calmly about money issues, and show the children the benefits of cooperative problem solving. If you can’t tackle this bad money habit as a couple or alone, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

6. Living paycheck to paycheck.

Sometimes bad financial habits are born out of necessity. But this doesn’t mean you don’t have important lessons to teach. Use struggles as lessons for your kids rather than staying mum, so they’re more likely to make better choices in the future.

As parents, there’s probably nothing you want more than for your children to do better than you have in life. Helping them learn from your mistakes is part of the process.

To help your children learn the value of a dollar and to get them to start saving at a young age, open a First Step Kids Savings Account right here at First Financial!* There’s just a $5 minimum to open the account and no fees, PLUS they’ll earn dividends on balances over $100. Stop by any branch location and we’ll help you get started!

*As of 12/12/2012, the First Step Kids Account has an annual percentage yield of 0.05% on balances of $100.00 and more. The dividend rate may change after the account is opened. Parent or guardian must bring both the child’s birth certificate and social security card when opening a First Step Kids Account at any branch location.  Parent or guardian will be a joint owner and must also bring their identification. A First Financial Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article source courtesy of Elizabeth Renter of USA Today.


8 Signs You Have a Credit Card Problem

Credit troubles often begin inconspicuously, yet there are signs all along the way before they become unmanageable. Being alert to these warnings allows you to make the necessary changes to prevent a future of financial worries. Having a credit card isn’t bad when you use it for the right reasons. It serves as a bridge to better things and establishes a credit history, which helps you make big purchases such as a home or a car.

Unfortunately, the “spend first, pay later” option is a slippery slope that leads to serious credit problems. They can happen to people of every age, income level and social status. Many signs are obvious to conscientious consumers, but life can sometimes become so hectic that you push them aside for later. Only later never comes. The sooner you admit that you have credit problems, the sooner you are able to fix them. Neglect the issue and you may end up with accounts in collections, purchases repossessed, eviction and bankruptcy.

Watch out for these eight signs that indicate you are headed for trouble:

1. You never follow a budget. If you don’t budget, your spending can easily get out of control.

2. A bank denies your loan. It may mean that the creditor thinks you have too much existing debt already, even though your official credit score isn’t bad – yet.

3. You make late payments regularly. You face expensive penalties, increasing the size of your bills and your risk of falling into debt.

4. You use payday loans. If you resort to these short-term cash loans with high interest rates, you can soon land yourself into serious debt.

5. You buy essentials like food on credit. You’re living beyond your means if you charge essential expenses on credit cards and you can’t repay in full each month.

6. Your annual percentage rate (APR), the amount of interest you pay per year, rises. A higher APR means the lender considers you at greater risk of debt problems.

7. You can’t afford more than the minimum required payments. It’s a clear warning that you spend more on your credit card than your income can support.

8. You don’t have sufficient savings to cover emergency expenses. You risk racking up massive debt when you need to use your credit cards in emergency situations.

If you recognize these signs, you need to be serious about making changes, even to the point of altering your lifestyle. Examine every purchase and question its actual need. Limit your credit cards to emergencies and use cash for the majority of your expenses. Make a commitment to save a percentage of your income for an emergency fund.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Article source courtesy of Kimberly J. Howard, AdviceIQ of you USA Today.

5 Ways to Save Money When You’re Broke

save-moneyIt can be hard to save money at any time, but it is particularly difficult when you feel like you are broke. If you can barely afford your bills and you are living paycheck to paycheck, saving money is probably one of the last things on your mind. However, you can still save money when you’re broke. In fact saving money, even if it is a little, is a key step to stop being broke.

As long as you are making some money, you should be saving some. Especially if you routinely have insufficient funds, it’s important to make a habit of saving money. Despite the fact that you have little extra funds, there are ways to save. Cutting costs, sticking to a budget, and saving a little at a time are all ways that you can save money, but there are other ways as well. Here are five ideas to consider.

1. Cut out the extras. An easy way to save money when you’re broke is to cut costs. You may think there is nothing you can cut out at first, but think a little harder. If you are truly “broke” then you need to let some things go. Do you really need such an expensive cell phone plan? What about cable television? Can you use the internet at the library or use WiFi instead of paying a monthly fee?

There are many things that we consider necessities that are really just extras, and cutting some of those will quickly free up more money. Take a look at your monthly bills, and decide what is really necessary. If you want to stop being broke, you may have to cut out some of the extras for a while.

2. Eat at home. Grabbing lunch on the go is so much easier and more convenient than bringing a lunch to work, but doing this regularly will really eat away at your income. According to Living on A Dime, eating out is a common way people get into personal debt. It’s easy to rationalize eating out because you are too busy to cook, or you are a bad cook. However, making food at home will truly save you money, and if you want to save money, you need to make the time and the effort to cook at home. You can save time by making several meals over the weekend and freezing them to use during the work week. If you simply don’t know how to cook, buy a cookbook for beginners.

3. Make a budget. If you don’t have a budget, your first step should be to make one. Perhaps you already have a budget, but there are several reasons a budget can fail. If you recently lost your job, or your income somehow changed but you are using the same budget, you will need to make a new one. You also may need to look at your budget and see if it is really reasonable and if you need to adjust anything.

According to Lifehacker, if you are broke and budgeting, there are several steps that can help. Start by assessing your financial situation, cut back on expenses (as mentioned in point one), and be frugal. There are other steps you can also take, including paying down your debt.

4. Save a little at a time. If you’re completely broke, the idea of saving anything probably seems unreasonable. However, you have to get into the habit of saving if you are going to save more in the long run. It’s important to think about the future: write down your financial goals, even if they seem completely out of reach. Then, start saving. If you are saving nothing right now, then any savings is an improvement. Once you cut your extras and start following a budget, you can use some of the discretionary money to save for your future.

Another idea is to get a second job. Even if you only work a few extra hours each week, but you put all the money in a savings account, you will quickly see a change in your financial situation.

5. Avoid common mistakes. You can make plenty of good decisions about your finances, but if you make a few poor decisions, you will still have a hard time saving. Some of the worst things to do when you are broke include splurging when you get money, prioritizing convenience, taking on too much debt or making poor decisions about debt, living beyond your means, and having no savings at all.

It’s really easy to live above your means, but this is one of the easiest ways to get into debt. If you have a hard time controlling your spending, try setting a budget and then doing envelope budgeting (you can modernize this practice with a few steps). Also, be careful about the debt that you incur. You need to avoid the worst financial mistakes if you really want to save.

Saving money isn’t easy, but if you take the time to put these five steps into practice, you will be off to a good start!

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*Article source written by Sienna Beard of CUInsight.

5 Simple Tips for Saving on Holiday Travel

It’s that time of year again and while many of us can’t seem to see past Halloween, we should be conscious of the rapidly approaching holiday season and with that, increasing travel costs. Check out these simple tips to save you money on your travel this holiday season.

1. Book early and save.

If you’ve figured out your family’s travel plans for the season, the time to book is now. The earlier you book, the better your chances are for getting a great deal on holiday travel plans. It is recommended that you book at least three weeks in advance when purchasing a flight. You’ll see the lowest fares debuting in early November. If you have to wait to book your travel plans, then try waiting to book on days when travel is typically cheaper, such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays, instead of booking on a Friday or Saturday.

When booking early, you may be worried about missing out on a cheaper fare price. However, travel sites such as Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline all offer Best Price Guarantees, which can help you get refunds if a lower fare price is found. Make sure to read each companies’ fine print and list of flight qualifications in order to receive your refund.

2. Fly the day of the holiday.

Often times, the most expensive days to travel are the days before and after the holiday because that is when most people travel. Take the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as an example. If you can rearrange travel plans to fly on the day of the actual holiday, it will increase your odds of scoring a better deal. Your in-laws or other family members may not be the happiest about it, but your wallet definitely will be.

3. Look for coupons and deals.

Nowadays there is a coupon or deal for nearly everything, especially travel. The business of travel is very competitive, so you will find deals on anything from rental cars, hotels and flights. Try booking all three together for a package deal. If you’re looking only for a hotel, try looking for exclusive deals like 10 percent off Best Western Room Rates to guarantee you’re getting a great rate.

4. Get there early.

The last added piece of stress you need when traveling for the holidays is missing your flight and having to pay extra in flight change fees. These are the busiest travel times of the year so be prepared when getting to the airport; lines will be long and patience short. Getting there early will ensure you’re on time to your gate (now let’s just hope the plane is on time, too).

Parking can add an extra amount of time to your travels. From trying to navigate through the overly packed parking lot, finding what seems like the last spot and catching the shuttle to the terminal, your well-prepared travel plans could quickly change. Instead of parking, find a friend to take you to the airport. Not only will this save you on time, but also money on the inflated parking fees at the airport. If you find that all your friends are also traveling, try using a coupon code for a free Uber or Lyft ride.

5. Ship your extra luggage and gifts.

Depending on how many days you’re traveling and how many are in your family, shipping your extra luggage and gifts is a great way to cut costs this season. Many airlines are charging extra fees for checked baggage and sometimes even for carry-on bags. Almost all airlines will have an overweight bag fee as well. If it is feasible for you to ship any extra belongings ahead of your trip then you could definitely be enhancing your holiday travel savings. In addition, shipping any gifts you will be giving away is a great way to not only keep the packages looking freshly wrapped, but also avoiding any TSA inspections of wrapped packages which will cost you precious time.

We all know that after Halloween comes Christmas music on repeat, the smell of apple pie, and of course holiday shopping. You try to save money during the holidays by shopping on days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday – but fail when it comes to saving on holiday travel. The key is to be aware and book early. Safe travels, everyone!

*Article source courtesy of Kerry Sherin of US News.

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this November 2015

Fall-Family-FunIt’s time to kick off the start of the holiday season and there are so many great things to do with family and friends in the upcoming weeks to celebrate this special time of year! Just because it’s getting cold, it doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of “warming” outdoor activities to enjoy. Check out our list of free or inexpensive activities happening this month in a town near you.

Sunday, November 1: Don’t forget to turn your clocks back – Daylight Saving Time Ends!

Monday, November 2: The all-time favorite tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is coming to the live stage at Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre (West Long Branch). This enchanting musical is based on C.S. Lewis’ adventure story about four children of war-torn England, who accidentally enter the land of Narnia by climbing through a magic wardrobe. This strange and wondrous place is ruled by the cold-hearted White Witch, who makes the winter last year round. Although they seem unlikely saviors, the children fulfill an ancient prophecy by defeating the witch, thus restoring sunshine and peace to the spell-bound Narnia and returning the great Lion King Aslan to his throne. Tickets start at just $12! For more information, call 732-263-6889.

Friday, November 6 – Sunday, November 8: Historic Allaire Village (Farmingdale) will be hosting a Stocking Stuffer Sale all weekend long! From 10am – 3pm, shop for those perfect handmade items that will delight everyone on your holiday list. For more information, call 732-919-3500.

Friday, November 6 – Sunday, November 15: It’s time for the 2015 Jersey Shore Restaurant Week! At participating Monmouth Country restaurants, you can enjoy a 3-course meal with your choice of an appetizer, entree and dessert for either $20.15 or $30.15. Check out all participating restaurants and try one (or even 10) places that you’ve never been to before and make it a night out on the town! For more information, visit the website above.

Saturday, November 7 – Sunday, November 8: Great Adventure’s (Jackson) 6th Annual Grape Adventure is back! The wine festival features 14 New Jersey vineyards with nearly 150 locally-produced wines for sampling, handcrafted gifts from local artisans, and an array of dishes from specialty food truck vendors. Grape Adventure takes place 11:30am – 5pm both Saturday and Sunday and the Safari Off Road Adventure tours will run from 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. both days. For more information, call 732-928-2000.

Saturday, November 14: Browse, shop and look for that missing item, lost childhood toy, antique jewelry, memorabilia and more at the Late Fall Flea Market at Allaire Village (Farmingdale)! Admission is just $1 for those 12 and older and the event will be held from 8am – 3pm. The Village, General Store and Bakery will be open as well! For more information, call 732-919-3500.

Thursday, November 19: Join First Financial’s Investment & Retirement Center for a complimentary Basic Estate Planning Seminar at 6pm in Howell. Reserve your seat today – space and time is limited! For more information, call 866.750.0100 or visit

Saturday, November 21 – Sunday, January 3: Capture the magic of the holiday season at Great Adventure’s (Jackson) Holiday in the Park! Enjoy the millions of glittering lights, entertainment, seasonal treats, Santa’s village and so much more with the entire family. You won’t want to miss this enchanting event coming to the theme park for the first time ever. For more information, call 732-928-2000.

Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremonies:

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!